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File - Val Ackerman. (AP Photo/Eileen Miller, Philadelphia Daily News)

Eileen Miller/AP

The NHL has hired former WNBA executive Val Ackerman to look at how it can help women's hockey.

Ackerman was the first president of the WNBA, the 12-team women's professional basketball league that has operated for 15 years.

Ackerman was at the women's world hockey championship Saturday to learn more about women's hockey.

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"I have been hired by the NHL as a consultant and am in that role looking into women's ice hockey and helping them develop a strategy for how they could be supportive short-term and long-term," Ackerman told The Canadian Press.

"They were interested in hearing a perspective about how a men's league could be of support to the women's version of that sport. That's something I know a little bit about, so we'll see how that goes."

Ackerman says the NHL brought her on board in January.

"I don't have the hockey background that others have, but I can say I am a strong advocate for women's sports," she explained. "I do think an organization like the NHL can bring a great deal to women's hockey in terms of what its teams could offer, what the league could offer in terms of promotional support and firepower."

Ackerman, who lives in New York, launched and operated the WNBA in its formative years. The NHL hasn't yet given Ackerman a deadline for her findings.

She says it's too far to soon to say the NHL is planning to operate a women's league.

"That's jumping to conclusions, to put it mildly, but I think what's good is the NHL is paying attention and they seem to want to be supportive," she said. "As a women's sports person, that's clearly very good news and where it goes from here remains to be seen."

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U.S. defender Angela Ruggiero, who plays for the Canadian Women's Hockey League team in Boston, believes an NBA-WNBA relationship between the NHL and a women's league would work.

"I know there's been talk of trying to utilize the existing NHL franchises and partner with those teams," she said. "You have Toronto, Montreal and Buffalo. You have enough teams that could work with a potential WNHL down the line.

"I think it's completely possible. It's a matter of time really and figuring out what the right formula is."

The Canadian Women's Hockey League is considered the top women's league in North America as it includes players from both the Canadian and U.S. teams and occasionally a national team player from Europe.

The league announced earlier this week that it was expanding to a sixth team in Calgary. The four-team Western Women's Hockey League is dissolving in order to create one stronger league under the CWHL umbrella.

CWHL executive director Brenda Andress told The Canadian Press after the announcement that she'd welcome a stronger relationship with the NHL.

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"There's so many ways we can link our game in providing hockey entertainment," she said. "There's so many ways they can benefit from us and we can benefit from them. Just simple things like advertising and press releases.

"I think there's a lot of synergies and partnerships moving forward with the NHL. They've been very up front with telling us key things and things they've done and gone through and what pitfalls to avoid. We've listened to that. They're learning our game."

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